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Polish Jesuit honoured


On the sandstone walls of  St Aloysius Church in Sevenhill hangs a beautiful painting of St Stanislaus Kostka with the Christ Child.

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The painting is believed to have been brought to Australia by Fr Leon Rogalski SJ, a Polish Jesuit who in 1870 migrated to South Australia to serve the growing Polish community.

Upon his arrival, Fr Rogalski established the first Polish chapel in Australia, St Stanislaus Kostka in Polish Hill River, and hung the painting of the Polish Jesuit saint on its walls. It was here that Fr Rogalski provided pastoral care to generations of Polish, German and Irish migrants, creating a lasting legacy of community and service.

On the weekend of March 13 and 14, descendants of the first Polish migrant settlers together with members of the Polish, Clare Valley and Jesuit communities gathered at Polish Hill River to acknowledge the 150th anniversary of Fr Rogalski’s arrival.

Many journeyed from interstate, including a pilgrimage from Melbourne which was led by Polish Jesuit chaplain Fr Wieslaw (Tony)
Slowik SJ.

The celebrations began outside the restored St Stanislaus chapel at Polish Hill River, where Fr Michal Skiba SChr prayed the Stations of the Cross before an official opening by the Governor of South Australia, the Honourable Hieu Van Le AC.

This was followed by a Solemn Mass concelebrated by Emeritus Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ, Adelaide Archbishop Patrick O’Regan and Port Pirie Bishop Karol Kulczyncki SDS, together with priests from Adelaide, Sevenhill and Melbourne.

The choir from Ottoway parish sung hymns in the Polish language and members of the community, young and old, donned traditional dress.

In a significant gesture, the Australian Jesuit Provincial Fr Quyen Vu SJ gifted a reproduction of the original painting of St Stanislaus Kostka to the Polish Community on behalf of the Australian Jesuits.

“It is only fitting that on this occasion, the celebration of Leon Rogalski’s arrival, that a copy of this original painting be returned to those who have continued to care for this memorial of the first Polish community in Australia,” said Fr Brian McCoy, former Australian Jesuit Provincial.

“So today we bring back Stanislaus to you as a gift, and we thank you.”

Bishop O’Kelly delivered a moving homily during the service, honouring the gifts of Fr Rogalski to the Polish, Jesuit and Clare Valley communities.

“Fr Rogalski may well have worked to create a ‘little Poland’ down here, as has been said, but that would be a shallow assessment of the life of this man whom we commemorate today,” he said.

“Through his work, the faith was handed on and down to generations around us. His love of Christ and burning zeal kindled that faith and love of God in so many who followed, and hence we are here today at this Eucharist.

“Like the people he served, he came to this land knowing he would never be leaving it. Like the people he served, he planted seeds for the future, seeds of faith and hope and love.”

Following the service, those gathered enjoyed paczki (Polish donuts) and coffee, traditional kielbasa (sausage) and kapusta (cabbage) with rye bread. Later in the afternoon, the haunting sound of Gorzkie Zale, a Polish Catholic devotion of sung Lenten lamentations, filled the historic chapel before pilgrims visited the historic Sevenhill cemetery and Fr Rogalski’s final resting place, in the crypt at St Aloysius Church, the following morning.

The Clare Valley has a long-standing connection to the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and the Polish migrant community in Australia. Today the grounds are home to Sevenhill Cellars, the oldest winery in the Clare Valley, St Aloysius Church, and a retreat centre.

Hannah Clifton is communications officer for Australian Jesuits.


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